After 50 Years of Driving, My First Flat Tire
Lacking experience, I had to turn to others for help with my flat
The feel-good stories on your news feed often cover "firsts" experienced by people 65 and over. They tend to involve something wild, like skydiving. Not me. Being a non-conformist – and having zero desire to exit an airplane that isn't parked on a runway – my "first" recently happened safely on the terra firma. But I'm hoping it will be my last.
Let's rewind. My wife, Sue, and I had met up with our daughter Maric for a hike in New Jersey. The overcast sky and chilly temperature should have been a warning that leaving the comfort and warmth of our cozy homes was a bad idea.
Fortunately, rain didn't fall until we were ready to return home. Since I drove our rental to the trail, Sue volunteered to pilot the return home. It also saved her the trouble of telling me how to drive.
"The spare tire," she explained, as if speaking to a four-year old, which considering my experience fixing cars, I technically was.
We were at the end of the short gravel road leading to the main street when Sue, sensing something awry, requested that I get out and do an inspection. And what to my wondering eyes should appear was a muddy flat tire beyond repair: the first I had ever encountered in my 65 years.
Following some curses, oaths and general bad language, we decided to take the next obvious step: call Maric before she left the area. If you want to feel pathetic, there's nothing more you can do than call your 25-year-old daughter in order to change a tire.
Maric's first question had me stumped: "Do you have a donut in the trunk?" Resisting the urge to bark, "This is no time to talk pastries!" I merely inquired, "Huh?"
"The spare tire," she explained as if speaking to a four-year-old – which, considering my experience with fixing cars, I technically was. After getting the OK, Maric swung by and jacked up the car.
Time to Ask for Help With the Tire
It looked like we would be on our way in minutes. Unfortunately, the last of the lug nuts refused to budge. As a call to roadside assistance left us on hold for the first of countless minutes, a young woman pulled over and asked, "Is everything covered?"
It was time for a quick decision. Save face and wave her on? Or lose what little pride I had left and admit defeat?
It was a no-brainer. "No. We can't change the tire."
Kayla, as she identified herself, got out of her car and showed us how a real driver removes a stubborn lug nut, even when sporting one-inch-long nails slathered in green polish. Now we were just about ready to roll!
Only we couldn't remove the tire. No matter how much we tugged, pulled and yanked, the rubber refused to meet the road.
There was nothing more our young helpers could do. I slipped Kayla $25 as she reluctantly left. Maric removed the jack from under the car and, at our request, left to keep an appointment with her friends. We promised to call when – or if – we returned home. At least she knew where we kept the will.
I Have Never Owned a Car
Sue and I returned to the semi-warmth of the front seat, waiting for the roadside help that didn't seem to be interested in helping. As we sat for the next hour, an embarrassing question pestered me: How did I live this long without learning the archetypically masculine deed of fixing a flat?
Easy: I have never owned a car. Any vehicle I've driven either belonged to my parents before I left home or has been a rental. And that was only when I started dating Sue.
It was oddly comforting to discover these strapping fellows were unable to remove the tire without kicking it like it owed them money.
In between, I rode shotgun with people who actually owned cars – a vehicle I found unnecessary, being a longtime New Yorker. The only reason I even renewed my license before getting married was to have a photo ID in case of a sudden case of amnesia – which, frankly, would have saved me the shame I was now feeling.
But on this late Friday afternoon, shivering in an unusable car, all I could do was hope for another angel or two to come our way. And that's exactly what happened.
Two young guys in a flatbed truck, heading to the hiking trail, could tell that the forlorn couple needed some mechanical first aid. Their names were Colton and Jeremy, but as far as I was concerned, they were Christopher and Anthony, the respective patron saints of travelers and older adults.
It was oddly comforting to discover these strapping fellows were unable to remove the tire without kicking it liked it owed them money. It's not that we were too old to do it, you see – just too polite.
As Colton attached the spare, Jeremy called a garage where their friend worked to make sure a proper replacement was available. They refused to accept a tip for their troubles – to them, putting on a spare was akin to tying their shoes (which is one task I'm perfectly capable of, thank you).
It took us about three minutes to drive to the garage, where a new tire was popped on in no time. Colton, Jeremy and the mechanic reminded me of one salient fact: while I might be male, they were guys.
No matter. I had finally learned the art of changing a flat tire. And all it took was roughly 50 years of driving experience.
Not that this was the end of our misadventure. There was one final issue in need of addressing.
Sue had learned to drive in Los Angeles, a city where cars are as necessary to everyday life as asparagus smoothies and organic wallpaper. "All that time living in L.A.," I asked, "you never had to change a flat tire?"
Sue brushed my innocent question away. "When you're young and cute, there's always someone passing by who'll do it for you," she said.
That's about as good an excuse as mine.